5 things to know about Falcons' 2018 defense

2019 Falcons preview: A look at defense and special teams

The front office didn’t make any major moves to improve the defense and doubled-down on former top-10 draft pick Vic Beasley.

Last season the defense was gutted down the middle with injuries to defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (ankle, two games), middle linebacker Deion Jones (broken foot, 10 games), safety Keanu Neal (knee, 15 games) and free safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles, 13 games). 

The Falcons have signed their rookie class, and the 90-man roster is set as the team starts OTAs Monday.

OTAs — Organized Team Activities — are the start of Phase Three of the NFL offseason per the rules of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

Here’s a look at the returners, newcomers, departures and the roster competitions for the defense and special-teams units:

DEFENSIVE LINE 

Returners: Jarrett, Beasley, Takk McKinley, Steven Means, Jack Crawford, Deadrin Senat, Michael Bennett, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Justin Zimmer. 

Newcomers: Chris Odom, Adrian Clayborn, Tyeler Davison, John Cominisky and Ra’Shede Hageman.

Departures: Brooks Reed, Derrick Shelby, Terrell McClain and Bruce Irvin.

Roster competitions: Beasley and McKinley are set as the pass-rush ends. Clayborn, who was re-signed after spending a season in New England,  is projected to be the top backup. Means, Odom and Cominsky are likely battling for the final two roster spots. 

Cominisky, the fourth-round draft pick who’s trying to make the jump from Division II University of Charleston, will also get a look at tackle.

Quinn praised the play of Jack Crawford last season. Davison essentially replaces McClain.

With the departure of Bryant Young for family reasons, Quinn and Jess Simpson will take over coaching this group. Quinn plans to challenge Beasley and McKinley and help them with alignments to help generate a pass-rush.

“I’m very much looking forward to having a hands on approach with him,” Quinn said of Beasley. “I told him by the end of the spring he’s going to either love me or hate me.

“I’m good with either, but we are going to put it in. He knows the work that it is going to take to play really consistent and I’m looking forward to seeing him do it.”

Jarrett has signed his $15.2 million franchise tag 

LINEBACKERS

Returners: Deion Jones, DeVondre Campbell, Foyesade Oluokun, Duke Riley, Bruce Carter, Kemal Ishmael and Jermaine Grace.

Newcomers: Yurik Bethune, Tre Crawford, Del’Shawn Phillips and Durrant Miles. 

Departures: None.

Roster competitions: With the emergence of Oluokun last season, the Falcons are set at the position if Jones is fully healed from his broken foot.

Oluokun was the second-leading tackler with 89 last season and covered Packers tight end Jimmy Graham 40 yards down the field. 

He’s a hitter with the speed to cover tight ends. 

When Jones returned last season, he appeared to be about 85 percent. With rest and rehab, the exciting Jones should return to Pro Bowl form.

Carter showed that he’s a dependable veteran reserve, who can play from scrimmage.

Riley, Ishmael and Grace will have to perform on special teams. Crawford received the top signing bonus ($15,000) of the undrafted rookie class, but will have an uphill climb making the roster.  

CORNERBACKS

Returners: Desmond Trufant, Isaiah Oliver, Damontae Kazee, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Taveze Calhoun. 

Oliver and Kazee must step into the right cornerback and nickel back spots. Trufant, who has not been the same since the pectoral injury in 2016, needs to re-discover his Pro Bowl form of 2015. 

Newcomers: Jordan Miller, Kendall Sheffield, Jayson Stanley and Rashard Causey.

Departures: Robert Alford, Justin Bethel and Brian Poole. 

Roster competitions: The Falcons were not pleased with the coverage last season as they released No. 2 cornerback in Alford and elected not to re-sign Poole, who was the nickel back.

Alford’s penalties finally caught up to him and Poole’s meltdown when they tried to play him at safety was costly. Oliver looked fluid when he got on the field last season, while Kazee will move to nickel after stepping in at free safety last season.

Wreh-Wilson is a quality reserve, who can play in a pinch. Sheffield, Miller and Stanley can be developed. The Falcons believe the speedy Sheffield can play outside and Miller can be play nickel.

Stanley was a special-teams player and basically a blocking wide receiver at Georgia. He’s being converted to cornerback. 

Causey received the second-highest ($10,000) signing bonus of the undrafted rookie class. 

SAFETIES

Returners: Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Sharrod Neasman and Ryan Neal.

Newcomers: Afolabi Laguda, Parker Baldwin, J.J. Wilcox and Chris Cooper. 

Departures: Jordan Richards

Roster competitions: If Neal (knee) and Allen (Achilles) can make it back, the Falcons will be fine. Neal was injured in the season opener against the Eagles, and Allen went down two games later against the New Orleans Saints. Quinn is hoping they’ll be back for the start of training camp in July.

Neasman helped out when Richards couldn’t handle all of the strong-safety duties. 

Wilcox, 28, a former Georgia Southern standout, has started 39 games in the NFL after he was drafted in the third round by Dallas in 2013.

  Laguda, a Brookwood High product, played at Colorado with Oliver. 

SPECIALISTS

Returners: Matt Bosher, Josh Harris, Tavecchio and Justin Hardy.

Newcomers: Kenjon Barner, Marcus Green and Kyle Vasey. 

Departures: Matt Bryant, Marvin Hall and Joe Condo. 

Roster competitions: The team elected to move on from popular kicker Matt Bryant and stick with Tavecchio. The Falcons need to spruce up a dormant return game.

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